Literature Review: Using Your Enemy

by Carl Strang

Some observations are just plain cool. A ScienceDaily article reported on a study in Australia that may or may not be relevant to our birds, but certainly should have me listening for inter-species patterns in their singing from now on. Here’s the reference: E. I. Greig, S. Pruett-Jones. 2010. Danger may enhance communication: predator calls alert females to male displays. Behavioral Ecology 21: 1360. The abstract can be accessed here: 10.1093/beheco/arq155.

Superb fairy-wren, a close relative of the study species. Their overall behavior reminded me of a chickadee’s, with the addition of wren-like tail cocking.

Grieg and Pruett-Jones conducted experiments showing that splendid fairy-wren males attach a particular courtship song to that of a predator (butcherbird), so that it resembles a duet between the species.

The pied butcherbird is a predator comparable to our shrikes. It has a beautiful, complex song, with frequent pauses where a fairy-wren easily could insert its own phrases.

The study showed that this made it more likely that a female fairy-wren would notice the song, as the predator’s song raised her alertness.

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